02/27/2020, 21.01
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Coronavirus: Iran to quarantine people, not cities or regions

The Islamic Republic is the epicentre of the outbreak in the Middle East, with 19 victims and 139 infections. Canadian study suggests that up to 18,000 people could be infected in the country. Shrines and places of worship remain open, but adopt more precautions. Rouhani is also against closing of districts or cities, says focus should be on individuals. US sanctions are hindering the fight against the epidemic.

Tehran (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Despite the spreading of the new coronavirus, which has already claimed 19 lives and infected 139 people in the country, the Islamic Republic is not planning to quarantine entire cities or regions.

During a cabinet meeting, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that health authorities will continue with the policy of quarantining individuals.

The authorities have asked people not to go to Qom, believed to be the centre of the outbreak, but shrines and places of worship remain open in a city that draws millions of Shia pilgrims each year.

For Ayatollah Mohammed Saeedi, custodian of the Hazrat Masumeh shrine, said that the latter should be open as a “house for cure” where people can “get cured from mental and physical diseases.” In fact, “people should be encouraged to come,” he explained, but "caution is required" and officials at the shrine should monitor “hygienic issues”. 

The decision to keep shrines open worries countries that believe that the only way to fight the spread of the virus is through exceptional measures in cities or regions like China and, more recently, Italy.

For Dr Bruce Aylward, head of the joint WHO-Chinese mission on Covid-19, the exceptional steps taken by China had "changed the course" of the outbreak in that country.

For its part, Iran is ground zero for the outbreak spreading to other countries in Mideast, including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and Pakistan.

According to Canadian researchers, given the number of people travelling from Iran to other countries, it might be possible that more than 18,000 people could be infected in the country. But nothing is certain.

An Iranian Health Ministry spokesman said that the virus has been detected throughout the country, but remains optimistic about the situation. “Every 24 hours, at least 10 per cent of those hospitalised or [who are] suspected cases are discharged.”

President Rouhani himself spoke of "promising" reports from the Health Ministry, but urged Iranians to avoid non-essential travel to affected areas.

"We have no plan to quarantine any district or any city. We only quarantine individuals. If an individual has early symptoms, that person must be quarantined.”

Rouhani slammed Iran’s external enemies, including the United States, who accuse Tehran of supressing “vital details” about the outbreak in the country.

“Coronavirus must not be turned into a weapon for our enemies to halt work and production in our country,” he said, adding that Americans “are also suffering”.

What is certain, however, is the US sanctions imposed after Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) ​​are hindering Iran’s efforts at fighting the spread of the virus and in treating the sick, as reported in the past for other diseases.

Concerns are growing in the country about the real ability of the regime to manage the crisis in the event of an escalation, especially because of the political and trade isolation imposed by the White House and US President Donald Trump, which have already brought the local economy to its knees.

"The US sanctions regime has severely impacted the access that Iranians have to life-saving medical supplies and will most likely hamper the Islamic Republic's ability to respond to the coronavirus efficiently," said Naveed Mansoori, a co-editor of online Middle East magazine Jadaliyya’s Iran Page.

This policy, he added, “could hinder the Islamic Republic's ability to respond efficiently to the coronavirus emergency.”

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